If you live in Northern California, you know that it has been unseasonably cold and rainy this spring. The husband and I got new patio furniture delivered and days later the weather took a turn for the worse - sixties and rain, punctuated by days of muggy, sticky air. What's good for our garden isn't so great for entertaining and relaxing out on the patio, luxuriating in the comfort of our new patio furniture. Finally, we had some sun and warmth this past weekend! We took advantage of the warm afternoon (I think it finally hit 90!) and the lovely breezy evening that followed. Sacramento benefits from two rivers and the wonderful blessing that is the Delta breeze. It can be downright hot during the day, and then suddenly the wind kicks in and the heat dissipates. It's amazing for a girl like me who grew up in the insufferable humidity of the East Coast.
To celebrate the warmth, and to get our minds off the plumbing disaster that was unfolding in our bathroom (showers only, so don't worry too much!), we cooked some great food and hung out on our patio with friends. We even dusted the cobwebs off the old Weber and rolled it out of the garage. That's right - on Sunday, we used our grill for the first time this season! Dare I say that summer is almost here?
romesco sauce, served alongside grilled new potatoes (they were purple on the inside!) and zucchini. I cheated a bit and jumped the gun with the zucchini; it hasn't yet started popping up in our box, but it sounded like just the thing to accompany the potatoes.
romesco sauce for quite some time. It hails from Catalonia, Spain, and is a piquant cold reddish sauce that you can spoon over almost anything - veggies, eggs, seafood (or so I'm told) etc. It's a puree of almonds and/or hazelnuts, red peppers, tomatoes (sometimes), garlic, and spices, laced with olive oil and thickened with a bit of toasted or fried bread. See a great article from the LA Times here that describes the almost alchemic nature of the stuff. I added a secret ingredient to mine (also my secret ingredient in deviled eggs!): smoked paprika.
Here's our elaborate BBQ menu:
- Deviled Eggs - a pretty traditional recipe, but with smoked paprika added to the yolk filling and regular paprika dusted on top for a jolt of color. I use Martha Stewart's failproof method for hard-boiled eggs: place eggs in cold water in saucepan; bring to a roiling boil and boil for one minute; remove from heat, cover, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 13 minutes. Spoon the eggs from the water into an ice bath. Perfect yellow yolks - no green exterior - every time.
romesco sauce and black bean salad.
Adapted from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen"
1 slice of country white bread, toasted and torn into large chunks (I used ciabatta)
1/2 cup blanched almonds
3 garlic cloves, crushed or minced with a bit of salt into a paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon sweet (regular) paprika
2 charred red bell peppers (jarred is fine) or 4 charred piquant peppers (I used piquant Trader Joe's brand), chopped
1/4 cup vinegar - sherry vinegar is traditional, but I used a mix of white wine and apple cider vinegars
1/2 cup olive oil
Place the toast, almonds, and garlic in a food processor and grind. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the vinegar and olive oil, plus salt to taste; process until smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula a couple of times. With the machine running, add the vinegar through the feed tube and process to incorporate, then add the olive oil in a slow stream and process. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Romesco sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
Black Bean Salad with Feta, Almonds, and Arugula
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks
This is a basic salad that would gratefully accept a number of additions. I particularly enjoy the dressing, which uses a mix of lime juice and white wine vinegar for the acid. It's just very well balanced and pleasant in the simple form below, but feel free to add other veggies and fruits as desired. I made my black beans from scratch because that's what I had. You could also use canned beans here, but make sure you rinse them before using.
For the Vinaigrette
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I like to add an extra splash or two)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon harissa (or sub in a pinch or two of cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 garlic clove, minced and pressed with a bit of salt to form a paste
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
For the Salad
3 cups cooked black beans
1/2 a bag of arugula (about 3 or 4 cups)
1/4 cup feta, crumbled
1/3 cup toasted almonds (either sliced or slivered)
Make the dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the lime juice, vinegar, honey, harissa, salt, garlic, and mustard (I used this neat immersion blender meant for salad dressing - this is a cool tool). Add the olive oil in a slow stream and whisk to emulsify. Set aside the dressing until you are ready to eat.
Toss the arugula with a bit of the dressing to moisten. Toss the beans and almonds with the remaining dressing. To serve, either place the beans atop the arugula, or serve them alongside one another. Sprinkle the feta on top of the beans and serve.